You are here

For a better cocktail, reach for a different shaker

Salt, arguably the most important ingredient in the kitchen, is just as critical at the bar

Bartenders often add pinches of salt to cocktails to bolster flavour.

OFTEN, the goal when making drinks at home is to, well, drink at home. It's not to try a new technique, buy an obscure bottle you'll use only a quarter ounce of, or wait 20-plus minutes for a cocktail - that's what bars are for.

There is, however, one major lesson to be learned from the bar: you should be salting your cocktails.

Bartenders often add dashes of salt to cocktails for the same reason a pastry chef would never skip it in a chocolate cake batter. It just bolsters flavour.

The add is not meant to be enough to actually make a drink taste salty. Rather, "salt is a key ingredient when you're trying to create something with depth," said Dorothy Elizabeth, a bar manager at Mr Lyan, a bar group with locations in London, Amsterdam, and Washington. "Sodium ions block bitter flavours, emphasise sweetness, and create really nice depth and dimension."

Most drinks benefit from a hit of salinity, but if you're new to seasoning your cocktails, start by adding a pinch to a drink that leans bitter, such as a Negroni. "It mellows out the taste of the Campari," Ms Elizabeth explained. "You're able to round out and create richer, fuller flavours without necessarily modifying anything - just through the addition of salt."

Your feedback is important to us

Tell us what you think. Email us at

Another drink that greatly benefits from a grain or two is one that contains fresh citrus, like the margarita.

Just as salt dampens the bitterness in a Negroni, it intensifies the palate's ability to sense sweet and sour notes. Add it to heighten the flavours in your next sidecar, caipirinha or gimlet.

As for salt type, raid your kitchen. Kosher salt, fleur de sel and flaky sea salts like Maldon or Jacobsen all work well to balance and brighten without overwhelming.

Since the meaning of a pinch differs from one person - and salt - to the next, most bartenders use a low-concentration saline solution to ensure consistency. But Ms Elizabeth leaves the dropper at work.

"If I'm making drinks at home, you better believe I'm just pinching it and putting it directly in my drink," she said.

For Ms Elizabeth, a pinch means a few small flakes of sea salt, no more. Keep your additions to a minimum and remember that - just as when seasoning a savoury dish or offering to drive someone to the airport - once it's out there, you can't take it back. A small pinch is enough to shift and enhance the flavour profiles of your cocktail. Begin with restraint, and add a few flakes later if needed.

Next time you're mixing a favourite cocktail, grab your salt dish or shaker from the kitchen and experiment with it. Divide the drink between two glasses, and add a tiny pinch of salt to one of them. Soon enough, that other shaker may find a permanent home on your bar. NYTIMES

Negroni Bianco

Yield: 1 drink

Ice, as needed
1 ounce dry gin
1 ounce red bitter liqueur, such as Campari, Cappelletti or Contratto Bitter
1 ounce blanc vermouth
Pinch of flaky sea salt
Peel from 1 orange, for serving

Preparation: Fill a mixing glass with ice, and add the gin, red bitter, vermouth and salt. Stir for 30 seconds, then strain into an ice-filled lowball glass. Garnish with the orange peel.

Sherry Margarita

Yield: 1 drink

1 ounce manzanilla sherry
1 ounce blanco tequila
3/4 ounce orange liqueur
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce agave or simple syrup
Pinch of flaky sea salt
Lime wedge or wheel, for serving

Preparation: In a shaker, combine the sherry, tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice, agave and salt. Add ice and shake until well chilled. Fill a rocks glass with ice. Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish with lime.

BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to